On December 12, 21 female candidates were elected in the municipal council elections of Saudi Arabia. It was the first time that women were allowed to vote in the Kingdom. Almost 1,000 women ran for office, with some reports putting the number of women actually able to vote at merely 130,000 compared to the 1.36 million men.
While women’s rights in Saudi Arabia remain restricted, this election, which was greeted with both celebration and cynicism, has nevertheless brought the achievements of Saudi women into the international spotlight once again.
Of course there’s a hell of a long way to go, but in celebration all women across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, this article introduces a few of the major cultural warriors who are indicative of the resilience and strength of Saudi women and the future of women’s rights in the country.
At 23, feminist and conceptual photographer Nouf Alhimiary is making waves throughout the Middle East and Europe as her work is exhibited throughout Saudi Arabia, Italy, England and the UAE. In 2012 her major work titled The Sacrifice was shown at the British Museum for their significant exhibition ‘Hajj: A Journey to the Heart of Islam’.
Alhimiary writes of her work, “My photography corresponds to the emotions of women, exploring their alienation in culture, specifically Muslim and Saudi Arabian societies. In my work the female takes the lead, she is the central theme and the most interesting topic”
Haifa Al Mansour
Ranked second on a Forbes list of 100 most powerful Arab women, Haifa Al Mansour is one of Saudi Arabia’s best known and most celebrated filmmakers. The subject of controversy and death threats, her work and voice is stark, uncompromising and rightly celebrated around the world. Her film, Wadjda, was the first Saudi Arabian film to be entered into the Academy Awards as Best Foreign Language Movie.
Her IMBD account gives you a great overview of her work.
You can follow her on Twitter here.
Manal Al Dowaya
Working across photography, physical installation, video, sound, and participatory social engagement projects, Manal Al Dowaya’s artwork has seen her be awarded research fellowships from major players like New York University and invitations to the Robert Rauschenberg Residency in Florida. Her work has been exhibited at the Venice Biennale and the British Museum as well as in South Korea, Denmark, the United Kingdom and Qatar.
Al Dowaya writes that her work, “revolves around themes of active forgetting, archives, and collective memory, with a large focus on the state of Saudi women and their representation”
An activist, journalist, and celebrated writer, Wajeha al-Huwaider, is a co-founder of The Association for the Protection and Defense of Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia. Her work is trailblazing, with Aafaq, a leading Arabic reform website, once comparing her to the African-American Civil Rights activist, Rosa Parks. Al-Huwaider is notorious for being the first Saudi woman to drive a motor vehicle publicly – posting the video to Youtube as part of a call to remove the restrictions on Saudi woman driving.
Follow her on Twitter here.
If you’ve never heard of these women, you should spend some time looking into their truly remarkable work. There’s a long way to go, but with the election of the country’s first female officials we can hopefully look forward to more of these unique and powerful female voices coming out of Saudi Arabia.